Dark is Beautiful: Learning to Love the Skin I’m In

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“I want to give to young children the gift that was recently given to me: The color of your skin is not a cross you bear. It is beautiful.” 

By Lydia Durairaj

As a child and through my teens, I was often told I had so many admirable qualities that could mask the one undesirable one: my dark skin. Apparently, if I didn’t posses those “admirable” qualities, then the color of my skin would be a heavier cross to bear.

Accepting my “weakness” initially meant dealing with it the only way the world taught me. Education is an important tool used to bridge the gap between the haves and the have-nots in India. It also enables us darker girls to find our foothold in a society that undermines our value as a person.

Living in a Color-conscious World

When I worked at an inner city school in Long Beach, California, a young African-American student made the observation that she was black and yet, I was darker than she. When I returned to India to visit my sick grandmother, she remarked that even the U.S couldn’t “help me with my color.” It’s not easy to ignore these comments or the barrage of fair-skin propaganda in the media.

As I grew older, I learned to define beauty beyond color. Migrating to the U.S. helped with that process. It’s now been six years since my husband and I moved back to India. Even though I’ve embraced God’s mold for me, I still live and breathe the same air that is tainted with a preference for people unlike me.

For centuries, fair or light skin color has been a symbol of prominence, superiority and higher social ranking. An Indian girl’s marriage prospects have been— and still often are— governed by the hue of her skin. Skin whitening products today are a half-billion-dollar industry, with the latest products tailored to lighten even underarms and private parts.

Color bias crosses nations, ethnicities, races and socio-economic lines. The birthplace of colorism cannot be traced to a country or geographic region, but to the hearts and minds of those who have perpetuated this preference. Colorism impacts our thinking and our choices— whether we choose to notice it, disregard it or accept it.

Dark is Beautiful Campaign

The idea of standing up to color bias was introduced to me by a small NGO in Chennai that I now work for, called  Women of Worth. The director, a vivacious lady who witnessed the degenerating spirits of dark girls in the city, wanted to speak out against the propagation of fair skin supremacy. This gave birth to the Dark is Beautiful campaign, which aims to instill a sense of pride and comfort in one’s skin, no matter what shade of white, yellow or brown it is. 

The organization got the people of Chennai to lend their voice on this issue using various forms of artistic expressions like painting, photography, poetry and short story. For the first time,the words dark is beautiful reverberated in a public platform—not in the comfort of my mom’s shoulders or in the quietness of my meditating spirit—but in newspapers, radio waves, television news broadcasts, and social networking sites. For the first time, I witnessed people being challenged to shed their bias and value humanity.

The Gift of Color

For too long, I believed my skin color represented blemish, dirt and filth. Instead of waiting in the shadows, I should have taken my rightful place in school plays or family reunions. But I share an unspoken space and language with many other dark-skinned people who’ve hidden behind someone in a group photo, covered their smiles with the palms of their hand, and convinced themselves that they are beautiful— inside (whatever that means).

I can identify with children who struggle to comprehend their beauty and self-worth. In between hidden smiles, shy glances, and mesmerized looks of approval at the charming fair-skinned beauties, often lays helplessness, regret and shame.

As I continue to work with the Dark is Beautiful campaign, I want to give to young children the gift that was recently given to me: The color of your skin is not a cross you bear. It is beautiful. Our varied shades are expressions of our creator including and inviting us all to be his children.

______________________

About Lydia:

Lydia Durairaj lives in Chennai, India with her husband and two children. In the coming school year, her goal is to help take Dark is Beautiful workshops to 45 schools and colleges.

 

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  • http://www.redandhoney.com beth@redandhoney

    This is beautiful. I had a memorable experience of sitting in a tiny hair shop in rural Tanzania, having the local ladies braid my hair (I’m a pale freckled redhead, and they thought it was the funniest thing ever that I wanted to braid my hair like theirs). There was this woman there – she was the most exquisite woman I’d ever laid eyes on… her beauty was just incredible. She was from Madagascar. She told me that she wished she was white like me, and that she felt ugly. My heart was broken in that moment, and all of the skin-whitening products being advertised made me furious. That such a gorgeous woman could actually believe that she was not beautiful simply because she had black skin totally crushed me.

    I am thrilled to hear of your Dark is Beautiful campaign, and I wish you every success in getting the message to people’s hearts above and beyond the enemy’s lies!

  • S. J. Thiagarajan

    Good for you! I married into a beautiful Tamil family, and my husband’s skin (including, but not only, its warm, dark brownness) is one of the many beautiful things which attracted me to him. I love visiting Chennai, and have seen many incredibly beautiful people there. While shopping on my first visit, I was handed a coupon for a skin-cream with “double-whitening-action” (which I definitely don’t need, being of Northern-Eurpean ancestry) and I laughed it off, but I also felt distressed for all of the dark-skinned people surrounding me, denied the right to believe in their natural beauty.
    May your campaign bear fruit, and may everyone open their eyes to the true fact that diversity is what makes us beautiful.

    • http://darkisbeautiful.in Lydia Durairaj

      Haha, double-whitening-action! For sure fairness products and their ads are douchey. I do hope people see it for what it is. Here’s a quote by advertising guru, Alyque Padamsee, on his fairness cream ad:
      “My biggest breakthrough on human behaviour (which comes from decades of studying characters in plays by Shakespeare and Arthur Miller) was Fair & Handsome, a fairness cream launched as recently as 2005 by Emami. Here, I discovered that the Indian male is as vain as the female when it comes to his looks and attractiveness to the opposite sex..”

  • http://biscotti_brain.blogspot.com Erin Wilson

    Such a complex issue… with hold-overs from colonialism, misogyny, and pressure from Hollywood.

    I thought it was such a bizarre thing to see nothing but white “caucasian” manequins in Iraq. All the stores filled with caricatures of western faces, and none that looked like the locals. So strange and sad.

    Also can’t help thinking of my mother, who has spent every spare summer moment baking in the sun, to make herself darker. “Dark fat looks better than white fat” is her motto.

    So many beautiful women and girls believing a lie…
    Thank you for speaking truth!

    • http://www.fictionpals.com rohini

      I don’t think the pressure is as much from Hollywood as it is from Bollywood and the myriad Indian magazines where a dark skinned model is a raity.

  • http://www.shelovesmagazine.com idelette

    Dear Lydia

    Thank you for sharing some of your story and your journey. I look at the beautiful picture of you and your daughter and I can’t help but think and hope and believe–as you and more women speak up–that a different future is so possible for generations to come. Thank you for sharing your truth so beautifully.

    • http://darkisbeautiful.in Lydia Durairaj

      “Change” is the only reason for sharing my story. Even though I wrote it, it’s a different feeling to see it posted online and having others read it – it suddenly bears this overwhelming surge of hope that people (including my children) will look at beauty and dark skin in a new light. Thanks, She Loves Magazine!

  • Swati

    now there is a story i can relate to.as a malayali growing up in Delhi in the fair and lovely generation…all through my teen years , i believed my skin tone was a bane.
    college came and i came over to college in the south to a more mature intellectually oriented crowd and also a lot of NRIs and foreign nationals who love my skin tone!!!thanks to them,i felt better about myself…i took part in a couple of inter collegiate fashion shows and surprisingly most of the girls with me were dark…as Femina titled it…
    the dawn of the dusk…and i couldnt be more glad. Its so nice to see ideologies changing..:)…and what you’re doing is a good effort to make them change.especially at school level..(i REALLY know how detrimental snide comments at such a young age can be,to your personality)…
    so,thank you…:)
    P.S.i must say,even when i visit Kerala which is home to a lot of dark people , i see they are still obsessed with being white.(not fair).its that mentality which needs to be targeted.no matter how gorgeous their features are or how beautiful they look in their skin,they only appreciate white people as beautiful.not themselves.which explains the fair and lovely sales which are forever on a high in the south.hope that changes soon.:)

  • Prahalad Bhatt

    Hi, thanks for posting this article. I’m of North Indian origin and married to a lovely Tamil woman. It’s sad that in the 21st century people judge others based on their skin tone.

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  • swapnil

    if u remember indian idol (i dunno which season), there was a girl with skin condition, she had marvellous voice but she was voted out because of her problems. I dunno why this happens, and how it will be solved , but these ads are not helping at all … and you are beautiful :D take pride in what you are …

  • Manmeeta

    Thank you for this article. It almost brought me to tears. I moved to US with my parents during my teen years and I felt the same way. While I was in India, all my relatives would praise my qualities but they always used to mock me and say, “sigh…if only you were fair, you would be able to marry a suitable man when you grow up”. In school, extra attention was always given to girls who were fair skinned by teachers and boys. For years, I struggled with a low self-esteem and feeling “ügly” in Indian terms. When I moved to the US, I was finally able to identify my self-worth and feel comfortable in my own skin! Nobody in the US called me ugly. People of different races live happily in US with beaming self confidence despite their skin color. Skin color cannot be used as a means to judge beauty in a person. But Indian media companies thrive in the low self-esteems of young girls by putting up ads showing girls getting jobs after becoming fair-skinned. Tons of girls in India undergo abuse in their relationships and continue to bear with it as they feel that they are of a lower standard due their dark skin. This is such a shame and it definitely needs to be put to an end. I would definitely like to help you in this matter by bringing more awareness. please let me know if there is anything I can do to increase awareness of this program!

  • Blacke

    If beauty from within isn’t enough, make do with beauty on the out side. If looks are not good, try changing the hair, dressing and develop charisma. There’s no such thing as ugly. Only those who find ugly of another have ignored or become blind to the other factors of beauty. Racist minds can also be changed so let’s not even think that racists are the barrier. Therefore, bait them by showing more of physicality. For instance, don’t wear sarees or your traditional clothes into the beach or pools. That’s ridiculous! It’s a joke to think you can hide your skin and still think you’re beautiful. Also, take the time and assess the oil level on your skin and reduce it. Less shine & polish helps to radiate the overall balance of energy from your skin so as not to show fatigue and weariness. That can be shown when you’re really into physical activities but when you’re outdoors without so much action, do please keep the shine to a minimal. Keep your facial skin matte when you’re ready to show your gentle self to others. Show them that you take good care for your appearance and outlook too to match with your personality.
    Break the rules and break out. (not extremely, that is.) Else, you’ll always give them something to jeer about of you every time. However, breaking the rules does also NOT mean you need to copy and paste from others. Don’t feel fear of wearing a bikini or a
    2-piece swimsuit for godsakes! (But you don’t have to if you think you’re being influenced by westerners by wearing them.) The only reason for rape and big number presence of perverts in your country is that the girls are teasing the eyes by not showing skin. The more there is of exposure, the less the threat and it becomes a normality (at most) thus reducing a reason for perversion. The law will need to be fair to all gender, colors and from all basis doing their duty to protect their people too. What has this got to do with dark skins, you ask?
    Briefly said, when the light is shown too much, people get bored of it eventually. Then, they turn to the dark instead & when the dark don’t show, they get pretty aggressive. That’s where the dark will have to ensure that before they expose themselves next, they need to have equal protection too and as fairly first from the law.
    Don’t just take the word ‘Dark Is Beautiful’ for nothing. It has to be shown although it’s dark. The light has to be out from the dark too for others to appreciate some beauty of it. While in the making, don’t thrash others and opt for the bright and wealthy only. That’s stupid, arrogant, wanton foolishness and plain hypocritical. If at all, it has to be done, bait, bait and bait only. Get in for a short moment and get out while hooking them. After all, the ‘bright’ just need to learn about the ‘dark’ more rather than the dark losing it’s value totally.

    Sometimes ‘the most beautiful women’ to most others, don’t even impress me.
    Laugh all you want. Take me for example, I don’t find Aishwarya Rai much beautiful to adore. She’s mostly bones although her skin’s fair. That’s it to me. So what she’s married and all that? Keeping up with taboos and quack … hooo boy, not loosening up… that’s another issue. I don’t find blondes attractive either. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t like them at all. I don’t like overtly tattooed, painted, pierced and ‘enhanced’ bodies because it makes me picture them as those who accept their own bodies as notice or billboards and don’t have an ounce of respect for their beautiful shell already.
    There are principles you can follow by being so much open and yet staying dignified and firm. That is yet not learned.
    Hope this honesty helps shed some light from a dark guy’s point of view and hope I see the change from you dark skinned girls too in the near future. Why, because I’m too damned frustrated with your ‘still-in-the coconut-shell’ lifestyles!